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The problem with live streaming Senate proceedings on the Internet

There’s a series of blog posts by Cocoy about the live streaming the Senate proceedings as proposed by Sen. Francis Pangilinan in Senate Resolution No 53.

If the Senate Resolution No 53 is approved, the Senate will start to live stream its proceedings: plenary sessions, committee meetings and hearings via the internet allowing anyone with internet access to witness what’s going in the Senate and what our good (ehem) Senators are doing in real time.

Cocoy did a wonderful job of exploring the idea, the issues that stands in its way and the possibilities it presents. In the first part, he looked if the technology exists in the country to make live streaming the Senate proceedings possible and concluded that it does exist, but setting it up and getting it to work smoothly could prove challenging. The second part looked at the various ways it can be achieved and ultimately concluded that despite all the limitations uncovered – which he tied with the sad state of the internet in the Philippines, streaming the Senate proceedings is important and that it must be done. In the third and final installment, he proposed a solution to solve the technological problems the country is facing.

However, I think that despite the wonderful exposition on Senate Resolution No 53, the discussion has wandered off away from the real issue of bringing a modern touch to the Constitutional right of the people to information on matters of public concern.

Good intentions, wrong methodology

With all due respect to Sen Pangilinan and to Cocoy, who is enthusiastic about the potentials of Senate Resolution No 53, live streaming has one fundamental drawback. It is accessible only to those who have internet access.

Sure we may be one of the most tech-savvy societies in the world, but such is only confined to the middle and upper echelons of society. The majority of Filipinos could barely make it through the day worrying where or when the next meal would come, let alone worry about social networks and getting on the internet.

Because no matter how it is done and who does it, live streaming the Senate proceedings will be exclusive to those who have internet access.

Assuming that the government does make it work, and the Senate is now live streaming its proceedings, the people’s right to information on matters of public concern would somehow be restricted to only those who have internet access. And by live streaming, no ordinary internet connection will do. One needs at least a 1Mbps connection to have a decent live streaming experience. And in the Philippines, the costs of a fast internet connection is way beyond the means of the ordinary Filipino.

In other words, the idea of greater transparency in government should be pursued, but the method chosen is a bit out of touch with the realities of Juan dela Cruz and dare I say, “elitist” and exclusionary. Public information should be made as open and as easily accessible to everyone as possible. Such accessibility must also be grounded in reality, especially the context in which the majority of its stakeholders are living in. Because no matter how it is done and who does it, live streaming the Senate proceedings will be exclusive to those who have internet access.

Our own C-SPAN first, live streaming is just an add-on

Make that channel available for free on broadcast television and not just in cable, because like internet access, the majority of Filipinos don’t have cable TV.

If there’s something worth picking up in the discussion over at Blog Watch, is it’s mention of the C-SPAN cable channel in the US. Now that’s a method that is more doable and more accessible to a greater number of Filipinos.

What the government could do is take one of the three television network it owns and devote it to coverage of the proceedings of both Houses of Congress – Senate and House of Representatives. To add a layer of transparency and avoid government censorship of some sort, turn over its management to the KBP or as Cocoy suggested, a non-profit media organization made up of the current TV networks.

Make that channel available for free on broadcast television and not just in cable, because like internet access, the majority of Filipinos don’t have cable TV. Because one thing is certain, almost every household in the country has a TV set. Even in transport terminals, inside buses, barber and beauty shops, even in your neighborhood sari-sari store, a TV set can be found.

It’s free, it’s accessible to every Filipino and this would definitely spark interest about how our government works, and how our legislator does their jobs. No need to worry about live streaming setups, operating costs and equipment, bandwidth issues etc. because these really aren’t the concern nor the intention of Senate Resolution No 53, it is about being transparent about how government works and engaging the body politic in the process.

Let us not get too ahead of ourselves and remember that long before the internet arrived, television sets were already in every living room and even inside our bed rooms.

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